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What are the Mayan Ruins?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 23, 2024
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Mayan ruins are the leftover archaeological sites of the Mayan civilization which existed between 1300 BCE - 1200 CE. The Mayans are known for being an extremely advanced civilization that flourished primarily between 300 CE -900 CE. The Mayans inhabited lands in the current day Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize, and they were responsible for building large monuments to carry out numerous rituals and ceremonies. The ruins of these ceremonial monuments can be visited at hundreds of locations around areas of Mexico and Central America.

Tulum and Chichen Itza are two of the most frequently visited Mayan ruins. Tulum overlooks the Caribbean Sea approximately 81 miles (131 km.) south of Cancun, Mexico. Tulum is considered to be one of the most important cities of the Mayan civilization because it was believed to be the one of the main port cities during their time. Also located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is revered as the most visited location of all the Mayan ruins. Chichen Itza was the capital and cultural center of the Mayan civilization and the archaeological site spans over 6 square miles (approximately 15.5 sq. km.). The other Mayan ruins on the Yucatan include but are not limited to: Becan, Bonampak, Calakmul, Chacchoben, Chac Mool, Chicanna, Coba, Mayapan, Uxmal, Xel-Ha and Yaxchilan.

Although many Mayan ruins are located on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, there are other sites in nearby countries. Guatemala is home to Tikal National Park which covers over 222 square miles (575 sq. km.) of dense rainforest and contains over 4,000 Mayan structures. In addition to Tikal, Guatemala houses Ceibal, Aguateca, Dos Pilas, Tamarindito, Solola, Antigua and many more.

Another one of the most visited Mayan archeological sites is Copan which is located in present day Honduras. Copan is the southernmost point of the Mayan civilization. In addition to being a learning center, Copan is famous for large stone pillars that have intricately carved hieroglyphics that tell stories of the ancient culture of Honduras.

Another important trade city for the Mayans was located near Belize City, Belize at Altun Ha. Altun Ha contains at least 500 buildings but the core of the ruin area consists of thirteen structures and two plazas. Altun Ha is home to one of the most popular Mayan temples, which is called the Temple of Masonry Altars. Besides its rich history and seven layers of tombs, the temple is on the label of Belikin beer, which is Belize’s national beer.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahG — On Jun 17, 2011

The Mayan ruins tour was incredibly interesting for everyone in my family. My daughter was about nine years old when we took that day trip (we were on a cruise at the time) and she still has a vivid memory of the Tulum ruins.

She even had nightmares about the ruins because the tour director told a story that stayed in her mind. He told of how the Mayans would drill holes in the front teeth of the young children in order to place jade balls in them. Every civilization has their own style of body decoration, but theirs did sound quite painful to children.

By sobeit — On Jun 14, 2011

While on a family cruise, we stopped at Playa del Carmen for the day. Our family decided to take a bus tour to see Tulum, the Mayan ruins. It was well worth our time!

I'd recommend taking this bus tour if you are at all interested in Mayan history. Even if you aren't, you'll enjoy the breathtaking coastline where Tulum sits. Great photo opportunities and nice to just get off the cruise ship and see something different.

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